I love the saying “players play and coaches coach”…and it almost always fits, right up until the players don’t come through and then the sexy thing to do is to blame the coaching staff.
For starters, let’s just give credit to Joe Flacco for offering the best summary of Sunday’s 19-17 loss to Green Bay. “You can’t expect to play badly for that long and win.”
When you score 10 points in the first 57 minutes of just about any football game, you’re not winning. And when you can’t run the ball, at all, you’re not likely to win either.
Much will be made this week of John Harbaugh’s decision to go for a touchdown on 4th down in the 2nd quarter with the Ravens trailing 3-0. Eschewing a near automatic three point field goal and a tie game, the Ravens’ coach let his offense stay on the field on 4th down and the resulting failure kept Baltimore off the scoreboard.
Here’s the truth: Going for it there was the right thing to do. If you can’t punch it in from a yard out, at home, you don’t deserve to win, frankly. Yes, I know, they had been stopped three straight times prior to that 4th down play. I’ll take my chances that we’re going to score a touchdown there – at home – about 90% of the time. Sunday against the Packers was the proverbial “10% of the time” that works against you.
I’m a gambling kind of guy. If the odds are 90% in my favor and 10% in your favor, I like my odds a lot better than yours.
So, going for it there was the right call. Not getting a touchdown, though, on any of the four plays there: VERY concerning.
Now, I will give Harbaugh detractors this: It’s definitely worth second guessing the play-call minutes later when Baltimore didn’t just kneel on the ball with 0:12 left in the second quarter. That, without question, was a questionable decision, from someone…whether that was Jim Caldwell with Harbaugh’s approval or Harbaugh alone saying, “let’s try and squeeze one more offensive play out of this here.”
That said, if Bryant McKinnie – not newcomer Eugene Monroe – had let his guy beat him and knock the ball out of Flacco’s hands on that play, the city would continue their McKinnie witch hunt. Instead, it’s Harbaugh’s fault that Monroe got beat and the ball was stripped from his quarterback’s hands. Get it? It would have been McKinnie’s fault if his man would have beat him — but it’s the coach’s fault if Monroe gets beat. That’s how we roll in Baltimore.
That said — given the anemic first-half effort of his team, taking a knee with 0:12 left in the half might have been the best thing to do there. It’s easy to say that, of course, now that I know Eugene Monroe got beat, the ball got swatted out of Joe’s hands, and the ensuing field goal gave the Pack a 6-0 lead at intermission.
But, the 4th and goal call earlier in the second quarter was the right one. The execution, though, was not there.
And please, please, please — do NOT be one of those people this week who says this: “If we kick the field goal there, we win 20-19 instead of losing 19-17.”
The game doesn’t work that way. And, if you follow sports at all, you should know that.
If the Ravens do kick there, perhaps they go on to win, agreed…but not by just doing the simple math of “give us those three points at the end of the first half and we win…”
What about Green Bay’s drive at the end of the game? They had the ball on the Ravens 10-yard line. Wouldn’t they have kicked a field goal there to win 22-20?
Answer: Who knows?
And, of course, that’s the whole point. You can’t just act like you know what would have happened had the Ravens kicked a field goal at the end of the first half. The game might have played out completely different.
The Ravens lost on Sunday because their offense isn’t very good, not because they didn’t kick a field goal in the 2nd quarter of a 3-0 game.
As they showed in Buffalo two weeks ago, they aren’t really all that good at running the ball and their passing game is decent, but limited. They went 2-for-14 on 3rd down opportunities against the Packers. That’s 14%. That’s dreadful.
I’ve been saying for three weeks now that I think both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are ailing and I stand by that statement, still, today. Neither one of them are 100% healthy. You can see it in the way they run. There’s no acceleration from either of them, no hitting the hole “going downhill” and no burst through the first level to pick up an extra couple of yards by getting past a defensive lineman. The offensive line hasn’t helped much, for sure. But if any of you watching the games are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that both Rice and Pierce are healthy, you’re likely in the minority on that one.
The loss of Matt Birk continues to mysteriously plague the Ravens. A lot of people busted Birk’s chops last year, but the reality is that you didn’t see him getting beat time and time again the way Gino Gradkowski has over the last month. As I wrote after the Buffalo game, though, Gradkowski remains a work in progress in this, essentially, his first real season in the league. It’s still trial and error for the center, just like it is for James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam in the defensive secondary. Neither of them have been game-in-game-out starters in the NFL before this season and their inexperience again showed on Sunday vs. the Packers.
It’s not good right now, this Ravens offense.
The defense, while capable overall, is susceptible to giving up chunks of yardage at a time, as they showed on Green Bay’s first drive of the game when Eddie Lacy ran through them. The Jordy Nelson TD catch was another of those “chunks of yardage” plays that, essentially, won the game for the Packers.
On the whole though, the Ravens are 3-3 because their offense isn’t good enough, not because their defense fails in critical situations.
It all adds up to next Sunday’s trip to Pittsburgh becoming an “almost must win” game for the Ravens, which should make the trip even more interesting and exciting for those of us heading up the turnpike to see it all unfold in person.